Dear Friends in Christ at Oak Harbor Lutheran Church,
We made a very difficult decision at our March 12 council meeting. Acting on the advice of our synod bishop and Island County Public Health we are cancelling all worship services and congregational activities at Oak Harbor Lutheran Church indefinitely.
Why are we doing this?
We are concerned about the most vulnerable in our society. This virus is most deadly to the elderly and those with underlying health problems. As Christians we value all human life and are willing to make sacrifices to preserve it. In gathering together for worship services, we could easily end up unwittingly spreading this virus to those least able to fight it.
We care about the members of our congregation. A large percentage of our congregation is over 60 years of age, which the CDC identifies as having a higher risk of serious complications from the virus. For a number of these stalwart members of our congregation, if we have a service, they will be there whether we encourage them to stay home or not. We do not want them putting their health at risk.
It is our civic duty. Our government is desperately trying to slow the spread of COVID-19 to prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed. A relatively small percentage of the population will need medical care or hospitalization from this virus, but if they all need it at the same time it will create the same kind of public health crisis other countries have already experienced. The government, flawed as it certainly is, is a gift of God given to maintain order and promote the public good. (Romans 13:1) As Christians we are obligated to help our government carry out its proper purpose.
This was not a decision made out of fear, then, but out of love for our neighbors. I believe it is a courageous decision, made in faith that the Lord will provide for us in the weeks ahead.
This was also not a decision we made lightly. Just hours before the meeting I was talking to an OHLC member who said, “I need to worship now more than ever.” It’s true. We need to turn to God in prayer in these hard times. At the end of the council meeting I prayed that God would lead us in finding creative ways to worship, pray, and be in the Word together. As a start, I will be doing a live stream on Facebook at 8 and 10:30 this Sunday which will include scripture, a sermon, and prayer. All you need to do is go to the Oak Harbor Lutheran Church Facebook page at 8 or 10:30 and look for the live video stream. Other options will be explored in the weeks to come. We will also be in touch with those we know are not technologically savvy, providing mailings and phone calls for spiritual care.
For the time being, the church office will be open regular hours. We will let you know if that changes. I am available for pastoral care and conversation. You can email me at email@example.com or call or text me at (360) 320-4041.
No outside groups will be using the building during this time except His Kids Preschool, which will make their own decisions about closure, and our Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous groups, for whom discontinued meetings pose their own serious problems.
It is vitally important that our members maintain their giving in the weeks ahead. You can do so by using our online giving platform, Tithely. You can download the app on your phone or find the link on our website at www.oakharborlutheran.org. You can also mail in your offerings to the church office.
It has been suggested that we form a team to bring groceries to our members who may not be able to get out to replenish their food supply. This would need to be handled very carefully, but I think it is a good idea and an example of how this isn’t a season “off from church,” but a season of new and different opportunities for Christian ministry. Let’s try to think this way in the weeks ahead.
How long will this go on?
I am hoping we will be able to resume services on Palm Sunday (April 5), but we have no way to know what the future has in store. Be assured that we will be back to our normal worship schedule and activities as soon as it is safe to do so. What a wonderful day that will be.
In the meantime, know that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear.” (Psalm 46:1-2a)
We have partnered with Tithe.ly, a secure online giving platform endorsed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to provide opportunities for online giving. You can click “Make a Donation” at the top right of our website to give or download the free “Tithe.ly” app (the one with the green logo) to give a single gift or set up recurring automatic withdrawal tithes.
Join us on the Oak Harbor Lutheran Church Facebook page for our live stream worship services at 8 or 10:30 this Sunday. If we should lose our live feed at one of the services, check back for a recorded video. The video will also be emailed and posted on our YouTube channel.
Below is the order of service:
ORDER OF WORSHIP FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT + MARCH 29, 2020
CONFESSION Matthew 28:19, 1 John 1:8-9
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
As we come into God’s presence, let us confess our sin:
Merciful God, I confess that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and what I have left undone. I repent of all my sins, known and unknown. I am truly sorry, and I pray for forgiveness. I firmly intend to amend my life, and to seek help in mending what is broken. I ask for strength to turn from sin and to serve you in newness of life. Amen.
FORGIVENESS John 20:22-23
GREETING 2 Corinthians 13:13
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
And also with you.
KYRIE Matthew 15:22, Mark 10:46-47, Luke 17:12-13
Kyrie eleison, Lord, have mercy.
Christe eleison, Christ have mercy.
Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy.
PRAYER OF THE DAY
Let us pray: Almighty God, our redeemer, in our weakness we have failed to be your messengers of forgiveness and hope in the world. Renew us by your Holy Spirit, that we may follow your commands and proclaim your reign of love; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
GOSPEL: John 11:1-45
The Holy Gospel according to St. John, the 11th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
SONG “We Believe”
In this time of desperation, when all we know is doubt and fear,
There is only one foundation; we believe, we believe.
In this broken generation, with all this dark You help us see,
There is only one salvation; we believe, we believe.
We believe in God the Father, we believe in Jesus Christ,
We believe in the Holy Spirit, and He’s given us new life.
We believe in the crucifixion, we believe that He conquered death,
We believe in the resurrection and he’s coming back again;
If you would like to watch a video of this sermon, CLICK HERE. Fast forward to 8:34 to just listen to the sermon.
Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent – March 15, 2020
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Isolation. Social distancing. Quarantine.
These are words that barely registered in our vocabulary just a few days ago, and know they are all anyone can think about. Schools, sporting events, concerts, and yes, churches, are shut down so that we can isolate ourselves from others, particularly the aged and vulnerable. We are being called to practice social distancing. Especially here in Washington state, the current epicenter of coronavirus in the United States, we’re all supposed to be in some form of self-quarantine.
I can’t think of a better gospel reading for the situation we’re in than this story of the woman at the well.
This woman was isolated from other women. Historians of the ancient world tell us that going to the well was a morning chore that most women did together. It was a time to visit. You might think of office workers gathering at the water cooler as a modern equivalent.
But this woman came at Noon, in the heat of the day, after everyone was gone. This woman came alone. Later in the story we find a likely reason for her isolation. She had been married five times, and was currently living with a man who was not her husband. There are lots of reasons why a woman in the ancient near east might have been married that many times. Mortality rates were much higher, so it as at least possible she had been widowed that many times. Men could initiate a divorce for just about any reason, and frequently did so, so it’s at least possible she had been abandoned that many times. We don’t know if perhaps she had her own moral failings or character flaws that led to these broken marriages. We do have what seem to be two little clues in the text: As Jesus points out, she is currently living with someone who is not her husband. There is a strong implication here that she is enjoying the intimacies of marriage without the promises of marriage. And then later she tells the crowd that Jesus “told her everything she has ever done,” perhaps implying she has done something to contribute to her martial history and current living arrangement.
Whatever the case, she is isolated from her community. Rather than cheerfully doing her morning chores with the other women, she is isolated from them.
When Jesus comes to the well where she is drawing her water, this woman knows she is supposed to be practicing social distancing. First of all there is the issue of a man being alone with an unaccompanied woman – which was a big no-no according to the boundaries training seminars of that culture. Moreover, Jesus was a Jew and she was a Samaritan, and as we are reminded more than once in parenthetical notes by John, Jews and Samaritans do not share things in common.
But here comes Jesus, asking her to give him a cup of water. She can hardly believe her ears, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” We might be tempted to think of this as a patriarchal move by Jesus, like Archie Bunker or Homer Simpson barking at their wives to fetch them a beer, but no – so much more is happening here. Jesus is honoring her by submitting himself to her hospitality. He is establishing a relationship with her by daring to cross those boundaries of Jew and Samaritan and man and woman. Jesus is also breaching those walls of isolation, flaunting the rules of social distancing, in order to offer this woman something even better than a cool drink of water in the noon day heat. Jesus offers her living water welling up to eternal life! Eventually Jesus even lets her in on the truth about who he is. At one point the woman says, “I know that the Messiah is coming.” And Jesus replies to her saying, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
And off she goes. She leaves her water jar sitting there by the well and goes back to the city to tell people about Jesus. After they hear her testimony, they invite Jesus to stay with them for two more days. Later they tell the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
There is some beautiful evangelism happening here, but don’t miss this important detail: This woman was brought out of her quarantine! She was brought out of her isolation! She went back to the city. She spoke and people listened to her. No matter what the details of her past may have been, because of her interaction with Jesus, she was restored to her community.
We have some challenging days ahead, friends. We are going to feel isolated. I am especially concerned about those who live alone and will have little opportunity to be with others as we practice social distancing. I hope you will be intentional about being in touch with each other by phone. I hope the phone lines are lit up every day with brothers and sisters in Christ here at Oak Harbor Lutheran Church calling each other up for a chat. But we are, in a sense, going to be alone at the well for the next few weeks.
Thankfully, Jesus isn’t deterred by social distancing. We are never really alone, because Christ Jesus is always with us. He enters into our loneliness, making himself known to us. He establishes a relationship with us, no matter what kind of tragedy or shame might be in our history, or what kind of fear or anxiety might be in our present, or what kind of difficulties might lie in our future. He comes to us and offers us living water welling up to eternal life. He reveals to us that he is the One, the Messiah, the Savior. He has come to speak to us of his mercy and grace.
And one day soon he is going to restore us to each other as a community. He is going to break us out of this quarantine so that we might bear witness to him together, side by side, hand in hand, sharing all kinds of things in common without fear.
Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent – March 8, 2020
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
In our psalm for this morning we hear the psalmist say: “I lift my eyes to the hills. Where will my help come from?” Psalm 121 is known as a song of ascents. It was originally sung by spiritual travelers making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, particularly as they entered the Judean hills. This mountainous region was a particularly dangerous part of the journey. It was known for its unpredictable weather and wild animals and bandits and robbers. It was a scary part of the journey. And so they sang this plea, “I lift my eyes to the hills. Where will my help come from?”
As we make our way through our spiritual pilgrimage of Lent, we find ourselves in a scary time. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and the epicenter of this pandemic in the United States is right in our own back yard in King county. It is important that we try to keep perspective about this virus and not give in to the near hysteria being stoked by the media. It is important to be practical rather than panicked. But the fear is obviously out there. Major events and public gatherings in the Seattle area are being cancelled. The University of Washington has moved all their classes online so students don’t need to be gathered together. We see this fear at the national level, as people across the country are hoarding hand sanitizer and toilet paper, and as the stock market has been making wild thousand-point swings up and down. We see this fear globally as airlines are cutting flights due to sharp decreases in demand.
We collectively lift our eyes to the medical community for help. The world is lifting its eyes to doctors and medical researchers for containment advice and treatment options and vaccination possibilities. I am certainly keeping an eye on any recommendations coming from the Island County Health Department.
As we lift our eyes to the medical community – which is truly a gift of God, and through whom God is surely at work – we often see a strange symbol associated with them. This symbol is a blue star, and in the middle of the star there is a snake on a pole. I was watching the Today Show while on the treadmill at Thrive this week and they showed this symbol on the screen during their coronavirus coverage. It is a symbol you see on the back of ambulances and on the shoulders of EMTs and on many medical alert bracelets. It is a symbol that represents the medical community in general, and this symbol, at least the part in the middle, bears a striking resemblance to the graphic on the front of your bulletin this morning.
This symbol is known as the staff of Asclepius. Asclepius is a figure from Greek mythology associated with healing and medicine. But how in the world did Asclepius come to associated with this strange image of a snake on a pole? For that you need to go back even further. Many scholars believe that Greek mythology got this symbol from the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament. It is widely believed that this symbol was “culturally appropriated” from the Jewish people and their story of Moses in the wilderness.
Moses was leading the people of Israel through their forty-year pilgrimage as they were led out of slavery and through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. Out there in the wilderness the people started to grumble against Moses and against God. They started to doubt God’s goodness, thinking God had led them out into the wilderness only to let them die there. They failed to trust in God’s promises to them, that he was with them, that he had a future in store for them. And with their sin came an outbreak much deadlier than any coronavirus. God sent poisonous serpents among them. The snakes bit them, and they began to die. God was showing his people that sin leads to death.
Thankfully this is not the end of the story. God provided a way for his people to be healed. He provided them a way to be saved from death. God instructed Moses to make a serpent of bronze and hang it on a pole. Then Moses was to lift it up before the people, and all who lifted their eyes and looked upon the serpent on the pole would be healed. They would live. As they lifted their eyes to the symbol of their sin, it became the very means of their salvation.
The Greeks seem to have appropriated this story into their mythology, using the snake on a pole as a symbol for healing. In our gospel reading we hear Jesus appropriating this story for his own purposes, as a way of pointing to the healing he had come to bring.
Nicodemus came to Jesus one night. They sat on a rooftop in the cool evening breeze, talking theology, as rabbis often did. Nicodemus was trying to figure out who Jesus was and what he was up to. He and his fellow Pharisees had established that Jesus was a teacher, but Jesus wanted him to know that he was much more than that. Jesus told Nicodemus that he was the Son of Man who has descended from heaven. The Son of Man is a phrase that means the Messiah, the Savior. Jesus told Nicodemus that “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
Jesus was more than a teacher. He was more than a prophet. Jesus had come down from heaven to provide a way out of the global pandemic of sin. Jesus had come to be put on the pole that is the cross, where the symbol of our sin becomes the very means of our salvation. Jesus had come to be lifted up on this pole, so we would lift our eyes to him in faith and live. As N.T. Wright writes in his commentary on this passage: “Humankind has been smitten with a deadly disease. The only cure is to look at the Son of Man dying on a cross and find life through believing in him.”
We are in our own spiritual pilgrimage through the season of Lent. As we heard on Ash Wednesday, as part of this pilgrimage we are invited into self-examination. We are encouraged to watch closely for the symptoms of this disease of sin in our lives. We are to watch closely for the ways we have grumbled against God, the ways we have failed to believe in God’s goodness and trust in God’s promises, the ways we have failed to walk in faithful obedience to God’s will. This is scary business, at least if you’re doing it right! It is scary because when we start to look at ourselves in this way we see that sin is a disease that we all already have. It isn’t a virus out there that we catch, it is already in each of us.
But Lent is not just about looking at ourselves. It is about lifting our eyes to the cross. It is about lifting our eyes to Jesus, where we find healing and new life. That’s why I like to use the processional cross during the Lenten season. We are training ourselves to lift up our eyes to cross, where we are confronted not only with the reality of our sin, but also the means of our salvation. As Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where will my help come from?” The question posed in this psalm for spiritual pilgrims making their way into the Judean hills is clearly a rhetorical question. We know this because the very next verses say:
My help comes from the Lord above, who created heaven and earth. He will not let you stumble, he will never fall asleep. The Lord, the protector of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Father watches over you, always close at hand. His shadow will cool you beneath the sun and guard you throughout the night. The Lord will keep you from all evil, protect you for all your days; your going and your coming, from dawn to dusk, today and forevermore.
It is good to be aware of coronavirus and to take measures to limit its spread.
It is good to be aware of the far deadlier disease of sin and to contend against it with all you’ve got.
But we don’t need to be afraid of any pandemic, whether biological or spiritual, because as we lift our eyes to the hills, we see that “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.”